Any number of fine books include artists toying with the idea that something that they create comes to life. I suppose the oldest version of this that i can think of is the lovely Pygmalion, in which a sculptor finds that his ideal woman takes life. In my case, it’s the Hostile Information Ecosystem, something I wrote about first in 2006. I was reading Geeking With Greg (again) tonight, and I was delighted to discover academic research reflecting my own analytically dispassionate fears about the extreme vulnerability of tag systems out in the long tail. He’s written about such tag vulnerability before, and I missed it.
So, anyway, it’s all about me, right? I imagined this first! Well,
It’s hard to see what can be done about the ecosystem, in general. The good news for people and sites who are heavily tagged is that it’s hard to foul up where they sit in the “standings” when one does a search that’s going to be influenced by tags. The bad news is that for the sites way out on the tail, it’s easy to botch up where they stand. What interests me — because here in my Home Office in Massachusetts I am rarely disturbed by actual knowledge — is that there are two kinds of highly likely attacks, the “piggyback attack” and the “overload attack.” I looked online (clusty, google) for other mentions of these attack types, but they appear to be fairly recently named — possibly by the researchers?
In any event, that’s just the abstract. The researchers delve in a lovely matrix (and by lovely, I mean, of course, “deeply paranoid”) into a variety of different kinds of attacks. They see the problem as roughly four-dimensional (those of you who actually know math can delete “4D” and substitute “four-tuple,” and you can do it with my blessing, if not my aid). They see three things in the tagging ecosystem, accurately — the resource, the tag, and the user; and then the fourth is the relationship created by linking these things. Now, this points to a problem I recently pointed out with the New York Times own site, which is that this presumes no computable value judgment by the user — in other words, a tag is a tag is a tag. You can’t tag something as “NOT A GOOD RESOURCE ON” or “ONLY A GOOD RESOURCE ON TUESDAYS” or whatever. That’s problematic when you have that little memo field on something like del.icio.us, which lets you say things like “This recipe is the worst I have ever used — do not use it, or if you do, God help you.”
I am not saying that the academics have fouled up here — I am saying this is hard.
In any event, my point is that in these different areas, the academics have identified that one can navigate in ways that are related to the user, the tag, or the resource — and that the target elements can also be classified that way, as users, tags or resources. Here’s what I like — and you’ll need to read Greg’s blog entry and the research, which is a tidy 14 pages and which I read in 30 minutes, to the academics eternal credit — there are at least SEVEN (7) POSSIBLE ATTACKS.
Now, that, pumpkins, is a scary Halloween fact. Can I get a witness?
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